Economic Development Wisdom

Posted on 9/29/2016 by Robin Scheu



These words of wisdom come from Maury Forman who, after nearly 26 years with the Washington State Department of Commerce, is retiring this month. He has a passion for rural development and entrepreneurship, something near and dear to us in Addison County, Vermont as well. While I've only been in economic develoment for 8 years, I think I can safely say that I, and AECDC, would agree with his list. (Well, maybe not #4...)

The full posting can be found in the weekly Agurban here. I recommend reading the last three paragraphs for a little more inspiration.

Maury Forman's Top 10 Bits of Wisdom:

  1. Economic development is not about jobs. Economic Development is about strengthening communities so job creation can occur organically. If your board tells you that your position requires you to create ‘X’ number of jobs then they are setting you up for failure.

  2. Rural matters. The economies of rural and urban parts of any state are interdependent. That economic dependence is real, measurable and significant. Rural manufacturing performance sends economic ripples into urban areas and agribusinesses generate additional business-to-business spending. Don’t short-sheet rural.

  3. Every economic developer should have a working relationship with their library or at least a regional one. Libraries act as great “Third Places” in a community, more so than coffee houses. Baristas serve you coffee that will last for hours; librarians serve you knowledge and information that will last a lifetime and can help your community grow. That knowledge will help communities relocate a company, assist entrepreneurs in starting a business and provide strategic intelligence to existing businesses to understand their competition and the marketplace in general.

  4. There is no #4. I came up a bit short in giving you 10 bits of wisdom so I stuck this in the middle hoping you wouldn’t notice.

  5. The pathway to jobs is not through recruitment. Studies clearly show that small businesses are the true job generator in any community. Pay attention to them. Existing businesses can be like dogs. They are faithful to where they live, but if you don’t pet them every once in a while, it’s hard to keep them under the porch. It falls to practitioners to give them the support and assistance they need to grow. If you focus on small business growth and entrepreneurship, other businesses (recruitments) will naturally follow.

  6. A healthy downtown will usually mean a healthy community. Suburban malls come and go but a downtown should last forever. Revitalize, re-grow, and reinvent. This will combat neglect, abuse and abandonment, which so many downtowns have experienced. A strong downtown can be a major stimulator for economic growth and potentially a key revenue generator for local government.

  7. Educate your boards. It is as important for them to be educated in this profession as it is for the practitioner.  The International Economic Development Council has some excellent professional development opportunities throughout the United States. Not only is it important to educate your boards about today’s strategies and  best practices in economic development, but the private sector should have as much representation as the public sector in determining the direction of the community. Not only will they offer a unique perspective concerning your activities, they will also be your best brand ambassadors, drawing other businesses to your community.

  8. Youth will form the backbone of the community for the next 50 years. If they have opportunities to learn new skills, participate in a business plan competition, appreciate the community’s assets, practice leadership, enter an internship program with existing businesses, and identify and become mentors, your community has a better chance to grow and prosper.

  9. Washington State has some of the best community colleges in the country. They have greatly broadened their economic development role to include contract training, small business development and entrepreneurship. These new activities promise to take the community college in a new direction, from an institution focused on educating students to one centered on meeting the needs of businesses and the local economy. Community college is not just about scholarship. It is also about successful adulthood.

  10. Every community should promote strategies that support the three-legged stool that encourage 1) asset development (infrastructure, arts and workforce programs), 2) innovation and entrepreneurship, and 3) technical assistance.

What would you add to Maury's list? Email me at